Nothing to declare

In the sixth and final part of his personal story, Mark Dempster experiences an unlikely epiphany

It had been a choice between prison or detox and treatment.

I took detox and treatment. After a while prison began to seem like the choice I should have made: I had a drug counsellor who was constantly getting in my face and I had to sit in circles with idiots talking about ‘feelings’. I hadn’t had a feeling much other than sick or numb for years, let alone have a discussion about them. The only thing that kept me there was that my drug counsellor was like me; Scottish, feisty and had been a junkie and criminal.

They made me go to 12-step meetings. I had been detoxed from alcohol and drugs and four months later I was at one of these 12-step conventions. There were hundreds of addicts like me, but they looked happy – I couldn’t understand what they had to be happy about. Then I heard a woman talking on stage. It was the same as all the others – took drugs, got bad, got clean. I was zoning out.

Then she said something that woke me up: ‘In recovery, I got tested and was diagnosed with HIV’. She stopped what she was saying and started crying. She broke down on the stage, in front of everyone. I was embarrassed for her. Then somebody behind me shouted ‘we love you’. Then another, and another – until the entire hall of addicts were shouting and whooping and clapping.

That’s when it hit me. This is where I am meant to be. All those years, all those scams, all those drugs – all I wanted was this. I wanted to belong.

It wasn’t all plain sailing after that. Detoxing was the easy part. I was 32 and had no idea how to live like normal people. Everything, from making a cup of tea to getting a part-time job, was a first without drugs. Slowly, one day at a time, I learnt how to live without a drink or a drug. I was able to make amends to the people I had hurt. I was able to look my dad in the eye and make peace with him before he died. I was able to be a son to my mum again.

Seven years after getting on my knees and begging for help in St Thomas’s toilet, I found myself in the same cubicle after the birth of my son. I looked at my reflection in the mirror and compared my happiness and joy with the despair and dereliction of myself seven years before. I started to cry. This time they were tears of gratitude. I was alive and I was happy.

It’s been 16 years since I went into that detox. In that time I’ve made some mistakes, but I’ve never picked up a drink or a drug. I’ve got two beautiful children, a loving girlfriend and my own counselling practice in Harley Street.

Most of all I have a peace of mind that I never thought possible.

Mark Dempster is author of Nothing to Declare: Confessions of an Unsuccessful Drug Smuggler, Dealer and Addict, available now on Amazon.

Mark runs a Harley Street counselling practice and is an expert consultant and trainer in addiction,

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